Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

David Bowie

RCA Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


Seemingly having gotten his experimental artistic ambitions out of his system after recording the critically acclaimed “Berlin Trilogy” of albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger, David Bowie once again shifted musical direction with his 1980 release, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

Although it’s intentionally more commercial-sounding in nature, it would be a mistake to label Scary Monsters as a pop record, for there is strong current of melodic eccentricity that flows throughout the album, likely a residual influence from the Berlin period.

Stylistically, Scary Monsters is reflective, finding Bowie looking to the past for inspiration, possibly for the first time in his career. There seem to be songs here that reference the various phases of his career, such as the harder glam rock of “Because You’re Young” and the cheeky electro disco of “Fashion” (surely influential on Duran Duran, both musically and lyrically). Even the character Major Tom from his 1969 hit “Space Oddity” reappears on “Ashes To Ashes,” an incredibly sophisticated, melancholic new wave synth pop song with amazing, heavily effects-laden, spacey, warbly guitar lines floating above some slap bass work and Bowie’s highly memorable, silky vocal melodies. A pop masterpiece in every regard. Also of note is “Up The Hill Backwards,” containing a highly catchy, grand sing-a-long chorus that amazes me over not having become a standard pub anthem.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Unfortunately, while the music throughout the album is consistently interesting due to the presence of most of the expert musicians involved in the last few Bowie albums, with the exception of Brian Eno (even Robert Fripp once again turned up to lay down his typically head-scratching robotic guitar riffs), little of the rest of the material reaches the lofty heights reached on “Ashes To Ashes.” Indeed, there are even some notable misfires.

Some of these songs suffer from lazy songwriting. Bowie's verses ramble more often than not. Instead of bothering to develop strong, concise vocal hooks as he did so beautifully on Lodger, he seems content to just spew forth a bunch of lyrical drivel presented occasionally in a spastic, nasal voice with all those ugly, dramatic "effects” to hold your attention.

“Teenage Wildlife,” for example, is a blatant copy of “Heroes,” and considering that it’s also seven minutes long, it’s an utterly pointless exercise that drags on needlessly. The title track begins in fine form with great guitar work and serviceable verses, but the monotonous, hookless chorus arrives with zero impact. Talk about disappointing – the songwriting couldn’t have been any lazier.

Then you have tracks like “It’s No Game, Part 1,” once again containing very inspired, cutting-edge (for the time) new wave rock musicianship, but sufferng greatly from abrasive, downright annoying vocals and piercing screams by Bowie as well as a really irritating, distracting spoken-word element by some Japanese woman. Another aimless, somewhat ugly vocal reminiscent of Bowie’s tendencies to over-sing in the early 70’s makes the otherwise gritty “Scream Like A Baby” a chore to listen to, though I suppose his approach fits the nightmarish tone.

So, is Scary Monsters David Bowie’s last great album, as is often claimed? Obviously that’s debatable, and while it’s weaker than quite a few of the ones that came before, it nonetheless provides an engaging listen and contains a lot of interesting material.  That material may not always be executed in the most ideal manner, but it’s delightfully quirky at all times and ends the dramatic decade that defined his persona competently enough. It is unquestionably however a Bowie album with a heavy new wave/new romantic slant, and one that would remain his last worthwhile release for a very long time.

Rating: B-

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© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.